You may not have noticed that I’ve added a page to my blog, entitled, “One Tiny Step Per Day”. This is for people who want to get involved in pet rescue, but who may have been overwhelmed by the subject, maybe because of the sheer numbers of pets needing help, or because of the emotional impact of the problem, or just because they’re running at full speed already and feel panicked at the thought of trying to add something else.
After I wrote and posted today’s ‘one tiny step’, I started cooking the dogs’ breakfast, while eating mine. This is a very good time for me to think, and I was pondering what tomorrow’s ‘tiny step’ would be. Although I have two more days off before I head back to my work at the note factory, I’m well aware that tomorrow will be a worse Monday than usual for most folks, and I wanted to offer a ‘tiny step’ that involved no real work and which was, in addition, absolutely cheerful–a pep talk, in effect.
So what you’re reading now is going to be tomorrow’s ‘homework’ for my readers who are following the, ‘One Tiny Step’ program. This is a story–true, as is everything I write here–about a little dog who was up for adoption during the time I was volunteering at the largest humane society shelter in our area.
It was my day for walking dogs at the shelter, walking them and taking notes, so that later I’d be able to write descriptions of them for the website, to help them get adopted quickly. I’m a very experienced dog walker, and I started, that day, with some of the dogs I thought might be trickier to handle, which also might give them a slight disadvantage when it came time to meet potential new owners. I always had a pocket full of the tastiest small treats I could buy, and I’d do my best to teach a ‘sit’, at the very least, and maybe a little no-pull leash walking.
So when I saw the tiny Jack Russell mix, almost lost in his vast metal cage, and felt him tug at my heart, I said to myself, “No, keep doing the tough dogs for now. That little dog is going to have no trouble getting adopted. If there’s time, and you do enough dogs first, you can take him or her out as a reward for yourself”.
I’d noticed that the turnover rate for small, cute dogs at this particular shelter was very quick, and there was usually no need even to write up a description for them. (If only that were true for every shelter in this country, but it most emphatically is not.)
I was able to stay that day for a long time, more than double my two-hour shift, and it was a warm, sunny day, perfect weather for the task at hand. I walked enough dogs that I earned myself the treat of a walk with the little Jack Russell. He was a male, an older dog, and thin, not to the point where it seemed he’d been mistreated, but with nothing extra to ‘live on’, as they used to say. He was slightly fearful, but he wanted to trust me and give and receive love, and he warmed up and even started to wag his tail a little, as we walked. I left him in his cage with a handful of the really good biscuits, since I noticed he hadn’t eaten the food in his bowl, and as I drove home I had no fears for his future fate.
But one week later, he was still there. The day of my shift was just a little chilly and damp, with an intermittent drizzle. None of the dogs I chose to walk that day minded the weather at all, nor did I. It was summer, after all, and a cooler, wetter day wasn’t going to put a big damper on our exercise. But I did worry about the little Jack Russell. The cage area was a bit drafty at all times, because of the fans circulating the air, and I wasn’t happy, looking at his little bony body surrounded by metal surfaces. I again saved his walk for last, but this week I didn’t think of it as a reward for myself–the very fact that he was still there put him into a class in my mind reserved for dogs in danger. And besides, he didn’t look as good now as he had the week before. He had begun to lose the glow of a living thing in good health and good spirits.
I planned his walk to coincide with a lull in the drizzle, which didn’t happen until the official shelter hours were over and I was one of only a handful of workers still there. He remembered me when I entered his cage, and his tail wagged furiously. I had taken notes on him the week before, but hadn’t bothered to ‘write him up’, since I thought he’d be long gone by the time I was ready to publish. Now I added more notes to the information I already had, anxious to get home and write a super-duper description of the little guy. There was something defeated about him that day. I was worried.
I may have walked one or two more dogs then, and I know I finished my notes, washed my hands and sterilized my shoes and my leashes, and gathered my belongings. But, last thing, something pulled me back to his cage, and as he looked up at me with big eyes, I saw that he was shivering. A dog in a ‘kill’ shelter who gets a cold or an upper respiratory infection has just taken a certain number of steps towards euthanasia, with the number of steps varying greatly from place to place. At this particular shelter the likelihood was that he would recover and would, after his period of isolation, be offered for adoption again. But weeks would go by, and who would want to take such a risk, if there was something one could do to prevent it? I certainly didn’t, and I did a mental scan of my clothing, to see if there was something I could leave for him. But then I remembered having seen an employee, not a volunteer but someone with access to all areas of the building, heading down one of the already-darkened hallways to the right of the cage area.
I tracked him down, and, slightly afraid I’d be rebuffed, asked him if there was a way I could get a blanket for a cold little dog. I needn’t have worried; he was perfectly willing to get it for me, and just asked me to wait for him to finish what he was doing. In a few minutes he was back. He smiled, said, “I got you one of the best ones”, and handed me a cuddly fleece throw, clean, thick, and soft, and still warm from the dryer. Thanking him, I rushed it to my Jack Russell and offered it to him. He must have had a good home, once, at least. He clearly knew the possibilities of a good blanket, allowed me to tuck him in with the fleece both under and over him, and settled down with a little sigh of contentment.
He was adopted long before it was time for my next weekly shift. Do I know that it was that fleece blanket that was the turning point for him, the thing that allowed him to have hope? No, I don’t know. But I do think it was. It may have kept him healthy. It definitely made him comfortable, and almost certainly helped him get a good night’s sleep. And, in an environment that must have been completely foreign to him, a highly stressful environment of strange smells, too-bright lights, and loud noises, the fleece blanket told him that someone cared about how he was coping, and that may have inspired him to try to help himself a little more.
If that’s too anthropomorphic for you, just think of it in terms of biology. His body didn’t have to work hard to fight the cold, so he had more energy to throw into his immune system. He got a good night’s sleep, so he had a better appetite in the morning, and ate a bigger meal, which gave him even more energy, so he played more when potential adopters came to meet him, so they gave him more positive feedback, to which he had energy to respond cutely…you get the picture.
There’s no doubt that small things make a big difference in the world of animal rescue. The director of that same shelter once told me that it can be the one walk you take with a dog which allows it to be chosen by a new owner. And no one who has worked in pet rescue makes the mistake of underestimating the power of tender, loving care.
So what I’d like you to do today, as you place that mustard yellow towel you’ve always disliked into the bag you’ve set aside for humane society donations, is to take a minute and really use your imagination. Because what you think of now is going to come true.
Some day fairly soon, you’ll take that bag with the towel in it to your local humane society. Some day, a tiny dog in a cage will be shivering, or a cat will be bleeding a little after having been spayed or neutered, or a pet who’s been surrendered with a filthy coat will be coming out of its bath, and your towel will be what warms it, or cleans it, or dries it. You can do that much good with a towel.
My wish for you today is twofold. First, I hope you’ll start to look at your linen closet with new eyes. 🙂 And then, I hope your new eyes will allow you to begin to realize the tremendous power you have. Each one of us has the potential to make an enormous difference. Thank you for caring enough, for being brave and loving enough, to begin fulfilling your potential.